Communication is much more than words. Remember it to communicate better.
Communication has two main purposes, the predominant one depending on the culture. Communication is about exchanging information and it is also about building relationships.
What usually comes to mind when we think about communication are the words that we exchange, orally or in writing. This is the exchanging information part. However, we communicate much more than with just words and this is this overall package that will build the relationships.
In fact, the words themselves are only a tiny part of what you communicate. Studies back in the 1960s have shown that people take into account three things to judge favourably a communication (1, 2).
The formula described by the authors is Total Liking = 7% Verbal Liking + 38% Vocal Liking + 55% Facial Liking.
The most important is the visual communication: your body language, your gestures, your expressions and the way you look. The second criterion is how you sound: the tone of your voice, the speed at which you speak. Finally, the content of your message, the words themselves, form only the remaining 7% of what people take into account.
You can easily see that what you say is of relatively little importance. All this means that it is not on the content itself that you have to work hard to improve your communication but on your nonverbal communication.
You may think it is the result of scientific studies done in specific contexts but it is easy to show how general it is. When I run a workshop on communication, I usually do this little exercise. I ask a volunteer to make a 20s speech, about any topic they want. I ask the audience to write down 5 things they notice about the performance. When you categorise what people notice between visual, auditory and words, you will find a very similar distribution each time.
So, what does this mean for being a better communicator?
EVERYTHING SENDS A MESSAGE
You are communicating continuously. Even if you do not say anything, do not move, you communicate. As soon as you are in somebody else’s vision and hearing range you communicate with that person.
You send signals, a reflection of your feelings that your interlocutors will take into consideration. The way you stand, you move will convey a message. Your facial expressions will constantly say something about you. Just think for a minute about all what you can pick up just you pass a stranger in the street. You will probably be able to pick their mood fairly accurately.
BE CONGRUENT IN YOUR MESSAGES
It is certainly difficult to accomplish. Carl Rogers (3), an eminent therapist in the 1950s, defined congruence as a precise fit between our experience and our consciousness. An extension of this definition is the ability to be a unified person at all levels.
You are congruent when what you feel, how you behave and what you say express the same thing. You are congruent, when your body, your face and your words send the same message.
It is actually very difficult for a person to recognise whether she is congruent or not. On the other hand, others will recognise very easily if you are congruent because they can study your words, behaviours and feelings.
A lot of this decoding of your various messages is taken place in large part at the unconscious level.
You can check how congruent you are yourself by noticing how your interlocutors react to your messages. If they seem confused, you are probably not congruent.
Being a good speaker is not just about using the right words. Many people make the mistake of focusing on verbal content and forget all the other messages they send. If these are not consistent with your words, you will lose your audience by sending conflicting messages.
A first example is what you wear. This is the first thing will notice. Your clothes obviously carry a message about you, your level of formality, your culture. Any other things you wear, such as jewels or accessories will also tell something about you. So make sure that what you wear is in tune with the message you want to deliver.
Then your movements, your facial expressions communicate a message. A good speaker knows how to use movements and expressions to reinforce his message. When you talk about feelings, express them on your face. A good speaker will move appropriately during his performance too. You will probably not convey the right message if you stay at the same place, with a passive expression on your face and a monotonous voice.
IF YOU ARE NOT CONGRUENT, PEOPLE WILL BELIEVE YOUR NONVERBAL MESSAGE, NOT YOUR WORDS
It surprises many people to discover that we rely so much on nonverbal communication. I can see two possible reasons for this.
The first one is that we are a visual species. We have developed a better vision than many other species. We developed colour vision too, which many species do not have. Vision is our primary sense to make sense of the world around us. No wonder then that it is from visual cues that we get most information.
The second reason is that communication appeared as soon as two organisms came into close contact enough to communicate. The first communication was probably via chemicals released in the environment and picked up by others. Every species communicate, among themselves and to other species too. However, almost no other species has what we would call a language. It means that most living beings rely on nonverbal signals to communicate and have done so for millions of years. What we see in our own communication is that long history of relying on nonverbal signals that we still have with us.
This leads to an important fact when people are analysing, even unconsciously, the messages you send. The fact is that if you send contradictory messages with your body, facial expressions and words, people will believe your nonverbal language.
This is for two different reasons. First, you take more into account nonverbal messages, for the possible reasons explained above. Second, it is harder to “fake” your nonverbal communication than your words. The slight apprehension in your voice, the uncontrolled movement of your hand, the shine or lack of in your eyes will convey your true feelings, your correct message and it is what people will pick up and believe.
In the next article, I will focus on what we convey with our body language and explain what we need to look for and after in body language. This will apply to both the messages you send and the ones you receive.
1. MEHRABIAN, A., WIENER, M. (1967). DECODING OF INCONSISTENT COMMUNICATIONS. JOURNAL OF PERSONALITY AND SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY. 6(1): 109–114.
2. MEHRABIAN, A., FERRIS, S.R. (1967). INFERENCE OF ATTITUDES FROM NONVERBAL COMMUNICATION IN TWO CHANNELS. JOURNAL OF CONSULTING PSYCHOLOGY. 31(3): 248–252.
3. ROGERS, C.R. (2004). ON BECOMING A PERSON. CONSTABLE; NEW ED EDITION. 432 PAGES